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BibliOdyssey // Public Domain 

The Deadly Pain Medicine Sold by Skeletons

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BibliOdyssey // Public Domain 

These days, we’re used to pharmaceutical advertising featuring pastel shades, dulcet tones, and 10 paragraphs of fine print. But at the end of the 1800s, one St. Louis company marketed their signature pain-relieving product with a series of macabre calendars featuring skeletons at work and play. Ironically, the very product they were advertising would later be shown to be fatal.

Although the name of the company—and the images—seem vaguely European, the Antikamnia Chemical Company was a home-grown affair. The company was founded by two former drug store owners in St. Louis in the late 1880s to sell Antikamnia, a medicine designed to combat both pain and fever (the name comes from Greek words meaning “opposed to pain”). Although the formula of Antikamnia varied over time, its principal ingredient was always acetanilide, a coal tar derivative. The company touted its little white pills as a “certain remedy, unattended by any danger,” useful for everything from flu to headaches, and especially handy taken as a preventative before sports or even shopping.

Wellcome Images // Public Domain

The company aggressively marketed its goods to physicians with direct mailings and promotional products. (Although the medicine was never patented and required no prescription, its makers hoped the freebies would entice doctors to recommend the products.) One of those promotional goods was a limited-edition calendar created for the years 1897 to 1901, and featuring the darkly comic illustrations of one Louis Crusius. A doctor as well as an artist, Crusius’s illustrations once graced the windows of the drug store he co-owned in St. Louis. In 1893, he’d published The Funny Bone, a compilation of his jokes and drawings. His calendars, though, seem to have been his most successful effort, and they still routinely fetch hundreds of dollars on eBay, at antique stores, and on ephemera-related sites. Sadly, Crusius wouldn’t survive the run of his calendars—he died in 1898, at age 35, of renal cell carcinoma.

And as it turned out, the calendars themselves were promoting a dangerous product. Acetanilide, the coal-tar derivative, had the unfortunate side effect of producing cyanosis, meaning it turned extremities blue from a lack of oxygen. Deaths related to the ingredient were reported as early as 1891. One 1907 article in the California State Journal of Medicine article entitled “Poisoning by Antikamnia” described a woman who had taken the drug as being “practically without pulse, cyanosed, with shallow breathing, and a ‘leaky skin.'”

Fortunately, Antikamnia was an early target of the progressive campaigners at the FDA, which ruled in 1907 that products containing acetanilide had to be clearly labeled as such. However, the company attempted to skirt the rules by changing its product in the U.S. market to contain acetaphenetidin, an acetanilid derivative, and then advertising that its product was acetanilide-free. That worked for a little while, but as the journal Confluence explains, in 1910 U.S. marshals seized a shipment for violating the Pure Food and Drug Act, and the case that followed went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Court eventually ruled that Antikamnia was in violation of the Act for not stating that the drug contained an acetanilid derivative, a ruling that was considered a landmark in support of Progressive Era reform. The Antikamnia Chemical Company’s fortunes tanked not long afterward, although not before making founder of the company Frank A. Ruf rich. At his death in 1923, his estate was worth more than $2 million.

While the calendars survive as a charming memento of a time when pharmaceutical advertising could be a little less saccharine, it’s hard not to wonder what the victims of Antikamnia might have made of these frolicking skeletons if they had only known what was really being advertised.

But despite its dangers, Antikamnia does seem to have been effective at dampening pain. About 50 years later, scientists discovered that the primary metabolic product of acetanlilide is paracetamol, now known as acetaminophen—or Tylenol.

 

All images via BibliOdyssey // Public Domain unless otherwise specified.

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technology
The iMac Was Almost Called the MacMan
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John G. Mabanglo/Getty Images

After breaking out with its Macintosh line of personal computers in the 1980s, Apple was in a slump. Sales had flagged as Microsoft's Windows operating system made waves. In 1998, the company was set to unveil a product that it hoped would reinvigorate its brand.

And they almost blew it.

According to Ken Segall, the advertising genius behind their "Think Different" campaign, Apple founder Steve Jobs was expecting the iMac to reverse the company's ailing fortunes. Where older Macs had been boxy, beige, and bland, the iMac came in an assortment of colors and had a transparent chassis that showed off its circuitry. The problem, as Segall writes in his new book, Insanely Simple, was that Jobs didn't want to call it the iMac. He wanted to call it the MacMan.

"While that frightening name is banging around in your head, I'd like you to think for a moment about the art of product naming," Segall writes. "Because of all the things in this world that cry out for simplicity, product naming probably contains the most glaring examples of right and wrong. From some companies, you see names like 'iPhone.' From others you see names like ‘Casio G'zOne Commando' or the ‘Sony DVP SR200P/B' DVD player."

According to Segall, Jobs liked the fact that MacMan was slightly reminiscent of Sony's Walkman branding concept for its line of cassette players. (Later, Sony had a Discman, Pressman, and Talkman.) But Segall, who named products for a living, feared the name would take away from Apple's identity as being original. It was also gender-biased, and alienating an entire demographic of consumers was never a good thing.

Instead, Segall suggested "iMac," with the "i" for internet, because the unit was designed to connect easily to the web. Jobs "hated" the idea, along with other suggestions, even though Segall felt the iMac could provide a foundation to name other devices, just as Sony's Walkman had. Segall kept suggesting it, and Jobs eventually had it printed on a prototype model to see how it would look. After encouragement from his staff, he dropped MacMan. With this key contribution, Segall made sure no one would be lining up to buy a PhoneMan 10 years later. 

[h/t FastCoDesign]

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Warner Bros./iStock
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entertainment
The Bizarre Reason Burger King Wants to Keep It Out of Russia
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Warner Bros./iStock

For decades, Burger King and McDonald’s have been engaged in one of the most competitive corporate rivalries in fast food history. In the 1980s, the two actually went to court over accusations about Burger King's sourcing and preparation of meats. In 2016, a BK restaurant in Queens, New York, was draped in sheets and made to look like the ghost of McDonald’s.

The sniping continues, but this time McDonald’s isn’t really involved. According to The Hollywood Reporter and coming our way via Eater, the Russian branch of Burger King has filed a complaint with the country’s Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) over the recent horror blockbuster It. The reason? They claim the movie’s evil clown, Pennywise, is so reminiscent of Ronald McDonald that the release will constitute an unfair advertising opportunity for their competitor.

While this sounds like either a prank or publicity stunt hatched by Burger King’s marketing arm, the FAS confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that the burger chain did indeed request the movie be banned. That doesn’t mean it’s not a marketing ploy—there must be economic advantages to comparing a chief competitor’s mascot to a child-murdering clown—but it does offer some substance to the claim. The FAS told the outlet that it “can’t be concerned” with a fictional character in a movie that has nothing to do with hamburgers, but hasn’t made any final decision.

Owing to the recent scary-clown hysteria, McDonald’s has actually dialed down Ronald’s appearances in public over the past two years, which does raise suspicion over what he’s been doing with his downtime. It: Chapter Two is scheduled to infuriate Burger King even more when it’s released in 2019.

[h/t Eater]  

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